Global Witness video goes viral, reaching every govt and head of state in the world besides IMF, WB, UN, etc, shaming LIEgime as criminals, thieves who launder monies and stole $1.3t from SG reserves
Singapore is “the jurisdiction of choice by people like us”. This boast by rogue lawyer Alvin Chong of Sarawak, caught on video by journalists from London-based Global Witness posing as investors interested in land deals, has gone viral. (http://www.globalwitness.org/insideshadowstate/)
The “people like us” presumably includes the minions and their corrupt politicians in Asia, as well as tax dodgers, and criminals who erstwhile had sheltered their ill-gotten wealth in Switzerland.
The stealth video exposes not just the rampant corruption in Sarawak, it also highlights how virgin forests are stolen from the people, and the arrogant contempt for the indigenous people by the perpetrators of such crimes. Viewers are universally shocked by the revelations.
Singapore, being the “jurisdiction of choice” where the corrupt deal would be executed, is implicated, not just by association – but by providing the legal framework which made such crimes possible.
So extraordinary is the expose that the video caricature of this rogue lawyer gleefully boasting about his corrupt exploits will become the defining image of corruption, deforestation, and the role of Singapore as the Sin City “of choice” for the likes of Alvin Chong.
This video has devastating consequences to those in power in Sarawak and indeed, the whole of Malaysia. It has also attracted worldwide attention, especially amongst the burgeoning environmental lobbies, and green movements and every organization in the West campaigning for transparency in financial transactions. Anti-tax evasion NGOs will now take a keen critical interest in Singapore as a financial centre.
The imagery of idyllic innocent tropical rain forests of Sarawak being traded for the glitzy cityscapes of Singapore is such a powerful contrast that Singapore Inc will now become an object environmentalists and anti-capitalists campaigners love to hate. This certainly is not the image of the global city that the people in Singapore cherish. For this unfortunate consequence, the Singapore government has a great deal to answer for.
Alvin Chong no doubt merely articulated what everyone suspects for a long time. But coming from the horse’s mouth stung Singapore Inc where it hurts because it needs to maintain the semblance of respectability in the international stage, especially before the IMF, Europe and USA. Such expose potentially could scare away lucrative foreign funds and super rich depositors if they become worried of the stigma of banking in Singapore.
It is also an unfortunate coincidence that in the same week as the expose was released, London Guardian newspaper carried a report of the resignation of French budget minister over his alleged secret account in Singapore from funds he was said to have hastily transferred from Switzerland. As noted in a Reuters report last year, “as cash-strapped Western governments increase their efforts to improve tax collection and Swiss banks are forced to open up their books, Singapore is facing renewed accusations that some of the funds flowing in may be illicit.”
Clearly, if the illicit money from Sarawak did find its way into Singapore as Alvin Chong confessed, the MAS (Monetary Authority of Singapore) would have to account to international bodies such as the IMF as to how it could happen despite its claim of having put in place anti-money laundering procedures. This could have serious ramifications to the integrity of the banking and finance industry of Singapore which provides more than 120,000 (5.5% of overall employment) jobs in over 700 financial institutions , accounting for more than 11% of Singapore’s GDP (2010 figures).
For an expose of such seriousness, the official Singapore response is certainly lackluster. The Ministry of Finance press statement denied that it did ever fail to cooperate with the Malaysian tax authorities when matters of tax evasion were raised.
The Ministry of Finance, however, kept a deafening silence on the central issue of whether illicit corrupt money had found its way into Singapore. Their failure to make any attempt to contact Global Witness to edit out any aspects of the video which are damaging to Singapore’s reputation is unusual.
The normally thin-skin Singapore government and their ministers had for decades indulged in libel suits against their critics in the Singapore courts. Suddenly the Singapore Inc officialdom has grown the hide of a rhino. The MOF and the MAS could, for example, seek an injunction in London court against Global Witness if Singapore’s reputation is tarnished by the insinuation in the stealth video. That will guarantee it an international platform and opportunity to protest its innocence.
Unfortunately, the likelihood of the Singapore government doing anything against Global Witness in London is realistically slim for obvious reason, yet the failure to defend its “honour” remains a lacuna.
The dear leaders in Singapore are aware that as a member of the international community, and the IMF, combating money laundering is, in the words of Min Zhu, the deputy managing director of the IMF, not only a “moral imperative, but also an economic need.”.
The laundering of corrupt funds from the Suhartos, Marcos, Chinese, Indians, Thais, Burmese etc benefits the few in Singapore, and lend comfort to the corrupt. But in the long term, Singapore is inadvertently helping to sow the seeds of social revolutions in those countries as taxes and funds from corruption, which could otherwise be deployed to pay for health, education and industrial developments in the respective countries, find their way into the bank coffers in Singapore.
As a tax haven, it transforms illicit cash into respectable capital. In the process, the local economies where the illicit funds originate, are drained dry, environment destroyed, and people impoverished. This is the reason behind the IMF economic argument to combat money laundering. It is therefore the height of hypocrisy for politicians to, on the one hand, decry the political and social instability in the region; while at the same time, be happy to act as the conduit for such proceeds of crime.
In the changing international mood and intolerance towards laundering of illicit money, Singapore’s quest to replace Switzerland is therefore regressive. Singapore is already on the radar of the American Human Rights Watch which accused it of laundering billions of dollars of Burma’s state gas revenues hidden from national accounts. [HRW 2011]
If Singapore’s future success as a global finance center depends on it’s ability to attract funds of questionable provenance, then at best, it could only take pride in transforming the little red dot into Sin City. That could be tremendously lucrative for Singapore Inc, but not necessary for Singapore. The trillions may be in the coffers of Singapore banks, but to the losers in the region, the island state is merely “handling stolen goods”.
I am sure the over 120,000 Singaporeans in the banking and financial services, and the corporate lawyers have the intellect to restructure Singapore as a progressive financial centre without having to bid for illicit funds. Other than paying lip service, the current government lacks the moral commitment, courage and political vision for a new world order whereby the economies of the region could be free of distortion and stagnation caused by corruption and tax evasions.
The Sarawak expose poses a challenge to Singaporeans to rethink the Sin City model.
Tan Wah Piow
* Who is Tan Wah Piow – PH Exclusive: Tan Wah Piow – Exile with a cause---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Robert Ho <robert.ic019@...>
Date: 25 March 2013 10:06
Subject: MUST READ: More proofs of LIE KY 2A1B famiLEE running a crooked, corrupt, criminal fiefdom for their own personal benefits including stealing $1.3t of Singapore reserves monies
Last year, an undercover investigation secretly conducted by Global Witness (GW), a London-based NGO that campaigns against environmental and human rights abuses, recorded video footage supposedly showing abuse of logging licences by cousins and business associates of Sarawak Chief Minister, Abdul Taib Mahmud (‘Expose: S’pore used by Malaysian politicians to launder money‘).
The video, which appeared online this week, show two of Mr Taib’s cousins and their lawyer explaining how to circumvent the Malaysian government’s requirement of 51% local share ownership and how to evade tax by going through Singapore:
GW posed as “foreign investors” looking to buy land for palm oil plantations. They first made an official approach to the Sarawakan government, which is charged with handling foreign investment, but they were quickly directed to meet the first cousins of Mr Taib instead.
Mr Taib’s cousins, whose father was the former Sarawak Chief Minister and uncle to the current Chief Minister, own shell companies which have logging licenses issued by Sarawak’s Ministry of Resource Planning and Environment.
During the meeting with the bogus investors, the cousins apparently suggested that the proposed US$16.6 million sale of their land lease could be effected illegally to evade paying millions in Malaysia’s imposed Real Property Gain Tax (RPGT).
Two sets of agreements would be drawn up, with one setting out a nominal sum that would be registered with the Malaysian authorities, thus paying minimal tax. The main principal amount would be paid through an undisclosed agreement in Singapore to evade paying the bulk of RPGT.
One of the cousins said, “We will have to do two sets of agreements… both agreements are done here but the other one specifies the full amount where the details are spelled out, whilst the one here is only just for the portion that’s here.”
“It’s been done before.”
Such an arrangement is in fact illegal under the Real Property Gains Tax Act 1976 and it is punishable with a prison sentence.
During the sting operation, the “investors” were introduced to lawyers acting on behalf of Mr Taib’s family interests. One of these lawyers is Alvin Chong of Alvin Chong & Partners, Kuching, who has represented the Sarawak government, government-linked companies and prominent public listed companies with alleged close links to Mr Taib’s family.
Engaged by the cousins, Mr Chong allegedly advised the “investors” to execute the deal in Singapore.
Describing Singapore as the ‘new Switzerland’, Mr Chong said, “That’s why we choose Singapore. The Singapore Government has a China Wall… a firewall. They will not tell the Malaysian government nothing… They [Malaysian government] ask them and they’ve been turned down…”
“Sorry, it’s none of your business. They are the new Switzerland. Jurisdiction by choice for people like us. We operate Singapore accounts too, both personal and corporate entities,” Mr Chong said in the video.
Mr Chong then suggested an alternative way to allow foreign investors to circumvent Malaysian law which forbids foreign entities from being majority shareholder of a Malaysian company. Again, the deal would be done in Singapore.
This alternative involves finding Malaysian nominee shareholders, then arranging a “loan” between the foreign investors and the nominees for the “purchase of shares” in the local company, then using these shares as collateral against the loan. In this way, the local shareholders are mere nominees who hold their shares in trust for, and act on behalf of, the foreign investors.
Although the law stipulates that local shareholders must not hold shares in trust, Mr Chong said in the video that the agreement would be “locked up offshore” in Singapore out of reach of the Malaysian authorities. Mr Chong confidently said that Singapore would not comply with requests from Malaysian authorities for information about such agreements.
The controversial video drew a strong response from the Monetary Authority of Singapore and the Ministry of Finance yesterday evening (21 Mar).
In a statement, the Singapore government said, “The allegation is simply false. Contrary to what was claimed in the video, Singapore has to date provided fully the information requested by Malaysia for tax purposes.”
In addition, it said Singapore has designated a wide range of crimes as predicate offences to money laundering – including corruption, bribery and fraud.
“Singapore therefore has been and remains able to provide mutual legal assistance to the fullest extent permitted under our laws where there are requests from Malaysia,” it said.
The central bank and ministry were responding to queries about the video clip which alleges that Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud, a senior leader of Malaysia’s ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, is involved in corruption.
Sarawak Chief Minister Taib has denied the allegations against him. He dismissed the clip as an attempt to frame him. “I think it’s a bit naughty of them,” he said in a separate online clip. “They’re using their big power to blacken my name. Could it not be that someone tried to promote themselves to become an agent to get favours from me?”
He added that he had been “fighting at one time” with his uncle, the former Chief Minister and the father of his cousins in the video. Mr Taib said, “That cousin cannot be my most trusted.”
Mr Taib has been under attack in recent years from opposition politicians, who have accused him of corruption and nepotism. There is presently a corruption investigation against him by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission.
Join our TRE facebook page here: http://www.facebook.com/TREmeritus---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Robert Ho <robert.ic019@...>
Date: 21 March 2013 16:37
Subject: Barrie -- Chan Chun Sing, here's another example of Singapore's complicity in the corrupted underworld---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Robert Ho <robert.ic019@...>
Date: 12 March 2013 08:13
Subject: MUST READ: Singapore club offers US$26,000 cocktails with diamond in it [we thought Singapore is for Singaporeans but actually it is for the rich]
---------- Forwarded message ----------From: Robert HO <robert.ic019@...>
Date: 10 March 2013 16:56
Subject: MUST READ: WHY ANY ASPIRING OR DESPERATE CITY SHOULD SET UP TAX HAVENS LIKE SINGAPORE ESPECIALLY IF YOUR COUNTRY CAN IGNORE US, EU TAX MEN PRESSURES
[WSJ Article first appeared onhttp://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324662404578334330162556670.html]
$26,000 cocktails. Traffic jams freckled with Ferraris. The world’s sternest city is now the richest. Why?
It’s midnight on a Saturday night at the Marina Bay Sands resort near the sparkling Singapore River, and all the boutiques are shut. But past a cosmetic-surgery clinic and a Ferrari accessories store close by, a large crowd is getting increasingly agitated. Dozens of hopefuls are clamoring to get in to what is billed as the world’s most expensive club, Pangaea.
Tight-fitting Herve Leger bandage dresses are practically a uniform here, often paired with Christian Louboutin heels and Chanel 2.55 bags, as women try to befriend club goers who are lucky enough to get past the red-velvet barrier and bouncers. It is frequently the leggy models, part of the club’s core demographic, who succeed. Out-of-town visitors who negotiated their way onto the guest list weeks earlier are turned away, even after offering to pay more than $3,000 for a table. The nightclub is completely full.
Past the bouncers, a walk through a long tunnel with blue ultraviolet lights and a ride up an elevator reveal one of the world’s most exclusive parties. Michael Ault, Pangaea’s founder, sits at the club’s most prestigious table by the bar, on cushions covered in exotic African ostrich skins. His table is covered with bottles of Belvedere vodka, Cristal champagne, buckets of ice and dozens of glasses for his friends. His wife, Sabrina Ault, a former fashion model and now his business partner, wears a fake shark’s head and wields a plastic gun while dancing on a table top. At Pangaea, all surfaces are made for dancing—even tables made from the trunks of 1,000-year-old trees and the crocodile-skinned couches.
It may seem counterintuitive, but a dance club does not need a dance floor if you are Michael Ault. A veteran of Manhattan nightlife and descendant of blue-blooded socialites—he is the son of a Van Cleef from the Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry family and the stepson of Wall Street’s famed Dean Witter—Ault, 49, prides himself on one thing above all others: the ability to throw a good party. And he has done just that over the years at more than 25 clubs from New York to Miami Beach and São Paulo to London. He is credited with being one of the first nightclub impresarios to introduce bottle service—now commonplace globally—at the legendary New York Spy Bar in the 1990s, where even Kate Moss was turned away on exceptionally packed nights.
The Pangaea experience, he says, replicates the feeling of being at a house party—one that just happens to offer African tribal masks from Ault’s personal collection, throbbing music, a $26,000 cocktail that contains a diamond inside and is served by waitresses in black dresses, and the knowledge that many of the people around you are worth billions.
Pangaea, though just over a year old, is now considered the most profitable club in the world with revenues of more than $100,000 per night in recent months, Ault says. It’s also one of the most expensive clubs, with tables costing as much as $15,000, and the uber-rich regularly chalking up six-figure bills. He could have brought this extravagance to just about anywhere in the world. London, with its collection of royals and a party scene that attracts Europe’s glitterati. Dubai, too, the land of if-you-want-an-island-you-just-build-one. And of course, his hometown and former playground, Manhattan.
But Ault, who moved to Singapore three years ago, says he “no longer feels the magic” in Gotham, which still bears the scars of a financial crisis that knocked the wind out of much of its most extravagant party culture. Singapore, he says, is another matter. This is where he says the rich feel, well, rich, and unusually secure. And where they seem to know only one common language, the language of excess—all too shamelessly displayed in his club.
“One night, there were these kids here—literally kids in their 20s—who all had their own private jets,” Ault recalls during another meeting, on a Thursday morning, leaning back on a leather couch in his club wearing bright-blue fuzzy slippers embroidered with a pink skull. “Serious jets, too. There was an A380 which was converted to include a pool and basketball court—it was ridiculous.”
“What I see here is what I imagined must have happened in the U.S. in the 1880s, in the Gilded Age, when it first took over England in terms of wealth,” he says. “It is truly shocking how much wealth there is—and how willing people are to spend it.”
Welcome to the world’s newest Monaco, a haven for the ultra-rich in what until recently was mocked as one of the most straight-laced, boring cities in the world. When most people think of Singapore, if they do at all, they think of an order-obsessed Asian version of Wall Street or London’s Canary Wharf, only with implausibly clean, sterile streets and no crime. The southeast Asian city-state of five million people is perhaps best known for banning the sale of chewing gum or caning vandals, including American Michael Fay in 1994 for spray-painting cars. Drug traffickers face the death penalty, and even Ault complains the authorities won’t let him import his prized gun collection, which now sits in his other homes in Palm Beach and Manhattan.
But over the past decade, Singapore has undergone a dramatic makeover, as the rich and famous from Asia and beyond debark on its shores in search of a glamorous new home—and one of the safest places to park their wealth. Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin gave up his American citizenship in favor of permanent residence there, choosing to live on and invest from the island while squiring around town in a Bentley. Australian mining tycoon Nathan Tinkler, that country’s second wealthiest man under 40, whose fortune is pegged at $825 million by Forbes, also chose to move to Singapore last year. They join Bhupendra Kumar Modi, one of India’s biggest telecom tycoons who gained Singapore citizenship in 2011, as well as New Zealand billionaire Richard Chandler, who relocated in 2008, and famed U.S. investor Jim Rogers, who set up shop there in 2007. Gina Rinehart, one of the world’s richest women, slapped down $46.3 million for a pair of Singapore condominium units last year.
And then there are, of course, your average millionaires—more of whom can be found among Singapore’s resident population than anywhere in the world. According to Boston Consulting Group, the island had 188,000 millionaire households in 2011—slightly more than 17 percent of its resident households—which effectively means one in six homes has disposable private wealth of at least $1 million, excluding property, business and luxury goods. Add in property, with Singapore real estate among the most expensive in the world, and this number would be even higher. Singapore also now has the highest gross domestic product per capita in the world at $56,532, having overtaken Norway, the U.S., Hong Kong and Switzerland, according to a 2012 wealth report by Knight Frank and Citi Private Bank.
“But what really checks all the right boxes for many of the world’s ultra-rich is Singapore’s obsession with order.”
The toys of all these millionaires and billionaires are visible across the city-state. A country roughly the size of San Francisco, it now has 449 Ferraris, up from 142 in 2001, while its Maserati fleet has grown from 24 to 469. Yacht clubs are popping up along with super-luxurious shops, like the Louis Vuitton Island Maison, a flagship boutique of the ubiquitous luxury brand housed in its own floating pavilion. Nightclubs like Pangaea and Filter, which are frequented by the young Saverin and his crew of millionaire party boys, have turned into havens for the wealthy to mingle. Rich out-of-towners play at Singapore’s two glamorous new casino resorts, opened in 2010, including the Marina Bay Sands complex with its celebrity chef restaurants and an infinity pool on the 57th floor with palm trees overlooking the skyline. In 2007, Bernie Ecclestone decided that the city-state would be added to the illustrious Formula One World Championship calendar. The race—which is the only Formula One night race in the world and is set to continue annually until at least 2017—has emerged as one of the most glamorous Formula One events, broadcasting the impressive Singapore night skyline to millions globally.
Singapore has long been a magnet for rich expatriates and multinational corporate executives. They are attracted to the city-state’s low taxes, virtually crime-free streets, pro-business policies and predictable government, with one political party in power since it gained independence in 1965. But the onetime British trading post’s ascent into the stratosphere of the world’s ultra-wealthy cities in recent years reflects a momentous shift in the global economy, as wealth settles in Asia after more than a decade of booming emerging-market growth. Asia now has more millionaires than anywhere else, according to consultancy Capgemini and RBC Wealth Management. While the rich lick their wounds in Europe and North America, the net worth of individuals in countries like China and Indonesia are up 6 percent to 7 percent annually.
Danny Quah, professor of economics and international development at the London School of Economics, has calculated that the world’s economic center of gravity—measured by looking at income averages across more than 700 places worldwide—has shifted east over the past 30 years, from the Transatlantic Axis to somewhere across the Arabian Peninsula. If current growth trends continue, this center will move in another three decades to a resting point between India and China—just about where Singapore is, meaning its potential as the world’s economic center may not even be fully realized.
Unlike the West or even places like the Middle East, though, much of the new wealth being created in Asia is emerging in countries where rich people see their assets at risk, either because of unreliable governments or unloved ones. The Chinese alone are reportedly exporting billions of dollars, saying they no longer trust their government and want to put their money elsewhere. Indians and Indonesians have likewise been looking for a place where they can stash cash to avoid high taxes or work with international-class wealth managers, while steering clear of the unpredictable policy shifts in their rambunctious—and some say, corrupt—democracies. Many Americans and Europeans just want a place where their investments can keep growing—hardly a problem in Singapore, smack in the middle of the fast-growing Asia.
“This kind of sharp change [in the global economy] brings with it an emergence of the very rich, who seek security and stability and a pronounced need for financial services in wealth management, investment, and facilitating and guiding decisions,” Quah says. “A place like Singapore has developed both the reputation and the expertise along every single one of these dimensions.”
But what really checks all the right boxes for many of the world’s ultra-rich is Singapore’s obsession with order, predictability and control, all of which give comfort to individuals whose fortunes have recently gone down the drain in many parts of the world. It doesn’t hurt that Singapore has some of the lowest taxes in the world, including none on capital gains and most foreign dividends. But it also has relatively secretive private banking laws and zero harassment from paparazzi or protesters, whose activities are narrowly proscribed by Singaporean authorities, further creating an aura of order and stability. Ronen Palan, a professor of international political economy and an expert on offshore wealth and tax havens at City University in London, believes that while Switzerland is “clearly suffering” from the pressure put on its private-wealth sector from the European Union and the U.S., Singapore is a “very secretive location” where many—Asians in particular—believe their wealth will be spared scrutiny from Western regulators.
“For all the flack that Singapore has gotten for chewing gum and caning, it shows that things are orderly here. Corporate governance is in order, the ruling party is stable and is not going anywhere, things actually function—everything works,” says Indonesian-born millionaire Frank Cintamani, as he sits in front of gold-embellished couture dresses, wearing a three-piece gray Lanvin suit paired with black brogue shoes. It is Haute Couture Week in Singapore, an event he leads after luring it away from Paris. A Singaporean citizen who has spent a large part of his life living in hotels and who frequently dons diamond brooches, he also leads Men’s Fashion Week and Women’s Fashion Week, and has a host of other interests and investments, including in publishing.
“Rich people can have fun anywhere,” he says, as the sound of a Ferrari zooming past distracts his train of thought, while he directs a stream of models, designers and fashion writers coursing through a tent next to the Marina Bay Sands, where his fashion show is being held. Though sitting down, he constantly has to stand up briefly to greet the ultra-wealthy fashion aficionados who recognize him. “But over here they know they will always be safe, their privacy respected and their investments solid,” he says.
Cintamani, 36, interrupts the discussion on Singapore’s economic environment, drawing attention to two men—one in a three-piece black suit, and another in a futuristic-looking white top embellished with silver at its collar and reaching past his knees over skinny white pants with platform shoes—and a woman in a white two-piece, loose-fitting suit with silver heels.
“See those guys over there? The three people in the corner? Their combined worth is between six to seven billion U.S. dollars—and I know this for a fact,” he says. “This is why we need to do this here,” referring to his fashion ventures. He then points out that one of Mongolia’s richest men, with wide interests in property and a keen investor in Singapore’s real estate, is also in attendance at the couture show. Cintamani, whose business card carries several logos from ventures in magazine publishing to fashion shows, declines to say where his family’s wealth comes from, describing it as “sensitive.” (His spokesperson says much of it comes from the oil and gas business.)
The irony, as with other earlier boomtowns, is that the very sources of Singapore’s success may ultimately prove its undoing. The gushers of cash that have flooded Singapore in recent years have put relentless upward pressure on property prices, with private-home prices rocketing 59 percent higher since the second quarter of 2009, even as real-estate prices have tumbled or gone sideways in much of the rest of the world. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was only admitting the obvious, some analysts say, when in a recent interview he said that the country’s property boom is “almost a bubble.”
Singapore’s “Gini coefficient”—the best-known economic measure of income disparity—is the second highest in the developed world. Wealth-X, a private consultancy that provides intelligence on the world’s uber-rich, estimates some 1,400 ultra-high-net-worth individuals now hold more than $160 billion of wealth in Singapore. Even upper-middle-class natives find themselves unable to afford houses in some parts of the city-state, such as Sentosa Cove, where more than 60 percent of the houses are owned by foreigners. Some are put off by flashy displays of wealth, particularly when it is the wealth of foreign nationals.
The dazzling party scene, meanwhile, has brought a new kind of anything-goes culture to Singapore that is threatening the sense of order that helped make it so alluring in the first place. One of the more disturbing examples came in May 2011, when a Ferrari driver from mainland China, traveling at more than 110 miles per hour, crashed into a taxi after running a red light and killed himself, the taxi driver and a passenger. The accident triggered an outburst of anti-foreigner sentiment online, with some Facebook users creating a fake profile for the dead Ferrari driver with derisive comments against mainland Chinese. Although authorities have largely succeeded in keeping out the kinds of criminal elements that populate the shadows of casino capitals like Las Vegas and Macau, local papers don’t shy away from reports of problem gambling in Singapore’s two new casinos, with one local middle manager reportedly losing $400,000 in a single bet. On a recent Saturday night near Pangaea, seven police officers were seen arresting a topless Caucasian male for alleged drunken and disorderly behavior.
“The irony, as with earlier boomtowns, is that the very sources of Singapore’s success may ultimately prove its undoing.”
Public expressions of anger or dissatisfaction with Singapore’s transformations are limited, since protests for the most part are prohibited. Yet signs of unhappiness are multiplying. The city-state’s ruling party retained power with its lowest percentage of votes in Singaporean history in 2011, and a thriving blog culture is prodding officials to consider some changes to the country’s economic model, including the creation of a bigger social safety net for the poor, which likely would require higher taxes. Indeed, several of the country’s leaders—who for decades staunchly defended long-standing policies of prioritizing economic growth above personal freedoms and welfare—seem to be doing some soul-searching. In his New Year’s Day message, Prime Minister Lee called on the nation to balance material goals with its “ideals and values. We are not impersonal, calculating robots, mindlessly pursuing economic growth and material wealth,” he said.
The rich in Singapore now find themselves with “new avenues to display their wealth,” according to Garry Rodan, a fellow at the Asia Research Center at Murdoch University, while “aged Singaporeans with grossly inadequate savings can be seen on the streets collecting plastic bottles for recycling.” Opportunities to move up the ladder, he says, are shrinking.
On the real-estate front, meanwhile, lawmakers have tried to deal with sky-high prices by introducing a 15 percent stamp duty on foreign purchases of private residential homes. Last year, the government also removed a program that allowed wealthy foreigners to “fast track” their permanent residency if they kept at least $8.1 million in assets in the city-state for five years, though investors who plan to dedicate a few million to help companies in Singapore grow are still welcomed. Authorities have repeatedly tightened the city-state’s tight casino-control laws, already among the strictest in the world, to restrict some locals from patronizing gaming floors and to punish casinos if they fail to keep problem gamblers away.
Optimists say those steps may, in the long run, prevent Singapore from going down the same road as earlier cities-of-the-moment that burned bright and then flamed out, like Dubai. “The writing was on the wall in Dubai in 2007—we had made our money and it was time to move on,” says Chris Comer, a property developer who is bringing the exclusive Nikki Beach franchise—a global chain of beach party clubs in St. Tropez, Miami and St. Barts, with girls in elaborate bikinis and patrons who show up in Caribbean pirate outfits or zebra body paint—to Singapore. Having lived in and out of Singapore for 17 years, Comer now resides in an oceanfront condominium in Sentosa Cove, a gated enclave of ultra-wealthy residents on an island 20 minutes from Singapore’s city-center. His beach club venture—one that he insists is “recession-proof”—is particularly well-matched for the city-state, he says, nodding at the seven pages of used Lamborghini listings in the online auto classifieds.
“Singapore is my home, this is my base, this is where I feel safe,” says Comer, speaking in the loft of his four-story office in a shophouse on Singapore’s Ann Siang Hill precinct, a preserved historic area just off Chinatown.
Others aren’t so sure about the future. They see youths burning through cash, and rich people who are totally oblivious to the sacrifices made by earlier generations that helped places like Singapore climb from Third World to First World status in just a few decades. “You se
(Message over 64 KB, truncated)